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Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

UkEdChat guest blog post.

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 20.53.57At about 1130am on Friday I was contacted and asked by UKEDChat if I wanted to write a guest blog post about the impact Brexit could/will have on language learning. I didn’t write it straight away for several reasons not least that I didn’t actually have time until very late that night to think. When I did, I wrote my personal reflection on the events and implications.

The post can be found on the UKEdChat website and the text is reproduced below:

My husband woke me this morning and asked if I wanted to know the result. I should’ve been known by his voice but when he said ‘It was Leave by 52% to 48%’ it hit me like a ton of bricks and I burst into tears.

My first thought was my friends and pupils and how some of them would now feel.

I am a language teacher and many of my friends and colleagues across the country are ‘native speakers’ e.g. French/Spanish/German nationals who teach their native language. Others fell in love and moved here to be with their partners. Some have lived in this country for many years and have never felt the need to go to the (not inconsiderable) expense of officially become British.  Many have British partners, children who have grown up here and consider themselves part of this country, working, paying taxes, contributing to their communities. They could not vote. You can read what one felt here.

The Referendum may have been about whether we stay in the EU or not, but the waters were unfortunately muddied by the issue of immigration.  As I turned on social media, my fears were confirmed. I wasn’t in school but I know that several children were aware of what a ‘Leave’ verdict could mean for their families.

My job as a language teacher isn’t just about teaching words, structures and grammar. It’s about a context for that language, be it in Spain or South America, France, Belgium, Senegal. It’s about culture, lifestyle, food that may be different to ‘our’ ways. It involves encouraging discussion of our differences to help us understand more about ourselves, and then the joy of seeing things from someone else’s perspective, celebrating that we’re not all identical.

Through eTwinning, Comenius, Comenius Reggio and Erasmus +, all funded by the EU, my school has changed over the last ten years to be the globally minded place that it is now.  Teachers have visited colleagues in Europe, we’ve received visitors and much work has been done online, via Skype and vieo conferencing.

So what will Leave mean?

My initial reaction was posted at 8:15am

This morning I am distraught. Can’t put it into words but can I just say to my many friends who now feel unwelcome in the country that is their home – I love you. Farage, Gove, Johnson et al do not speak for me and my family. I don’t know what the future holds but I know that as long as I have breath I’ll still be championing cooperation, understanding, compassion and celebrating diversity. “We have more in common with each other than things that divide us.

Taking my eldest son to a university open day gave me time to think and reflect. My conclusion?

My task hasn’t really changed. I will still teach Spanish the same way I always did. I will still see Intercultural understanding as a vital part of my role. I will still find ways to bring other countries into my classroom. It will be harder as there is uncertainty about what will happen to the wonderful programmes like eTwinning. As a school we will still celebrate the languages and cultures of our pupils as we did whilst people were voting in another building on our site. My son and others intending to study languages at university may find their year abroad harder to fund without Erasmus funding. I might get asked more often ‘why do we learn Spanish; everyone speaks English!’ but my answer will remain the same. If anything, I see my role as even more important than before. My son reminded me of the postcard that was on the shelf at the bottom of our stairs at home featuring the words of Nelson Mandela:

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

His point was that, given the number of treaties, agreements and the like that the United Kingdom  now need to renegotiate, language skills will be all the more important, a point born out by experience.

The Leave vote doesn’t mean that we are no longer European.  I am European, speaking several languages, having lived in three European countries and that hasn’t changed. Time will tell the full implications for languages and the global dimension; statements from The British Council and ALL make me more optimistic.  So whilst my tears have ceased, my determination has not and, judging by the comments on social media and in person, nor has that of my fellow linguists!

We may need to work harder for opportunities but …

Love the future – competition to attend Nobel Prize giving!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Thanks to REAL (The European Network of Language Associations) for drawing my attention to the following;

The European Union has launched a drawing and writing contest for 8-24 year olds, in partnership with the European Youth Forum. The four winners will be invited by the Presidents of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament, to be part of the official delegation of the European Union that will travel to Oslo to receive this year’s Peace Prize. The European Youth Forum will pre-select the 16 best entries for each age group (8-12, 13-17, and 18-24). A jury will select three of the final winners (one per age group) who will win a trip to Oslo. Participants can take part in the contest and propose entries on: www.peaceuropefuture.eu.

The question that they must answer?

In the youngest age group, 8-12 years old, entrants must draw their response (they can use a computer so I assume that includes mobile devices like iPads too!)

In the other two age groups, entrants have to ‘text’ their response in 120 characters – in any of the 23 official languages of the EU. This actually so that they can be retweeted with a hashtag #peace4EU according to the rules. All entrants are then allowed to expand on and explain their  drawing/text in 300 characters.

The competition is open to nationals of the EU (so that means my kids can enter even though we’re currently in non EU Switzerland!) but you need to get your skates on as the closing date is 25th November at midnight CET. Entry is online though so no need to worry about posting pictures!

Report on Foreign Language Learning in Europe

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

An interesting report on Teaching Languages in schools across Europe was published a few days ago.

Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe 2012 is a joint Eurydice/Eurostat publication, produced in close cooperation with the European Commission. The report is based on four main data sources: Eurydice, Eurostat, the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC), and the OECD’s PISA 2009 international survey. Eurydice data covers 32 countries (27 Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey) and takes the reference year 2010/11. [The report] contains 61 indicators and qualitative information describing the context and organisation of foreign language teaching, student participation levels as well as the initial and continuing education of foreign language teachers. In addition to giving a snapshot of the situation today, the report also presents several time series which are helpful in identifying trends in language teaching over recent years and past decades.

You can see the highlights of the report in the document below, or read the full version by clicking on the image on the left.

Some of the key points however are –

1. Students start learning foreign languages from an increasingly early age. It makes me really sad to see the UK block at 11 years old after all the hard work done to make it 7. And you can see that we’re far behind many other countries in Europe.

2. More students learn two foreign languages. Not in the UK though it seems.

3. English by far is the dominating foreign language in Europe. 

4. Very few students learn languages other than English, French, Spanish, German or Russian.

5. Students’ perceptions of the usefulness of a language is a motivating factor for learning – and English is by far seen as the most useful.  Perhaps this, and point 3, explain some of the UK’s language “apathy”? Trips are also pointed out as a motivating factor.

6. Teaching guidelines for foreign languages place equal emphasis on all communication skills – and yet both teachers and students make infrequent use of the target language in the classroom. Interestingly, the UK is not on the graphic for this section – I wonder why?

7. The Common European Reference Framework (CEFR) is becoming a main tool for defining student attainment levels. Also interesting to note that the UK is one of the few countries in Europe (along with Spain, Netherlands, French speaking Belgium and a few others) without an expected level of proficiency in a second language by school leaving age.

8. School reports difficulties filling vacancies for language teachers. I know a few great language teachers who would love a job!!

9. Few countries require teachers to spend an immersion period in the target language country. The UK does have recommendations about this, and also about the content of ITT. However, I think they could go further. You should have to visit regularly as well to keep ‘up to date’. Why not have funded sabbatical periods – even a week would be good – to revitalise your skills every two or three years? And I don’t mean a trip on which you’re supervising children, nor do I mean a week of sunbathing on the Italian riviera. Perhaps shadowing a colleague, or investigating something that interests you. And immersing yourself in a language and culture that you love.

I wonder if anyone who makes decisions about languages has read this report properly? Or have they just seen the ‘English is the most useful’ and thought ‘That’s Ok then’?